Many people taking their first cruise think they are going on an all-inclusive pre-paid vacation. Not so. It’s what you spend on board the ship that makes cruise line investors happy. And for medical services, you pay your way. The ship doctor you visit for a cut thumb or investigation of chest pain is an independent contractor and expects to be paid. And his rates are not cheap. Also, medical care on board any ship is strictly limited to minor emergencies or to keeping you stable until you can be offloaded at the next port. If that is a small island hospital in the Caribbean or the Mediterranean, you will have to pay those hospital bills then and there unless you had the foresight to buy a full service plan designed specifically for Canadians. A plan designed primarily for Americans—which is what most cruise lines sailing out of U.S. ports sell—can be totally wrong for Canadians whose government health insurance pays virtually nothing for out-of-country services. American plans are meant to supplement the private insurance that Americans have, not the government insurance that you carry at home. With cruise line insurance you will also have to arrange your own way home—by commercial carrier or air ambulance—and that is a very expensive, very complicated procedure for you to handle yourself. If you’re in a Caribbean island hospital and you’re heading back to, say, Calgary, air ambulance can run $25,000 or more. If you’re a stretcher case, you would likely have to buy at least six commercial airline seats and even then your choice is slight, as many airlines, including Air Canada, British Airways, and all of the major U.S. Airlines, no longer carry stretcher cases. And unless you have the appropriate medical documentation and have an admission reserved at a hospital at home, an air ambulance might not transport you either. Making such arrangements is no game for amateurs.
All major cruise lines offer some limited supplemental health insurance plans but they are not designed for Canadian travelers and they don’t take into consideration the out-of-country restrictions on emergency medical care that Canadian travelers face. Most cruise line benefit levels are too low—some limited to $10,000 or $20,000. That’s a drop in the bucket, especially if you have been evacuated to an American hospital. Cruise line insurance also limits evacuations to
“the nearest appropriate hospital.” That’s not nearly good enough. You need to have repatriation coverage that guarantees you a return all the way home.
Dealing with a medical emergency on land, within minutes or an hour of a well equipped hospital, is stressful enough. Doing so out at sea, hours away from land, is a formidable job best left to the professionals.
Some cruise lines and travel agents offer supplemental insurance plans provided by commercial insurance companies as add-ons. Those are better choices than the in-house plans offered by cruise lines, but the best choice for Canadian cruisers is a full service travel health insurance plan designed by Canadian insurers for the special needs of Canadian travelers. It’s the same kind you would buy if you were going to Disney World for a week. They offer adequate hospital and medical coverage, arrange for transportation from the most out-of-the way places, and get you back home to a hospital in your area with the least disruption if that is what you need.
And these plans are easily available—from the same people who sell you travel insurance for a land-based trip.